Living alongside mental illness

Family life, from even the most ideal accounts, is a mixed blessing. It may take a long time to have an awareness of the effects of living in the particular family you've come from. When there's a parent in the family with a mental illness there may be more to take account of in the mix.

Often as a student, it may be difficult to work out what is distracting from studies or may sometimes cast a shadow over wanting to have fun and make relationships with others at University. It may be that you're still living with family members, or living with family patterns, that influence current relationships.

You may identify with some of the things that have been said by students who live, or have lived, with a parent who has a mental illness:

"I think I lost my childhood!"

"None of the labels of mental illness matched what it was like to live with someone who had the illness."

"I didn't realise until I was older that my family was so different from other people's."

"I felt guilty about leaving home and leaving my brother behind."

"I think I learnt a lot about taking responsibility very early in life."

"I often felt like I was being a parent to my parent."

Many people don't identify with the term carer. However you may have found yourself looking after a parent. Perhaps a lot of energy in your family was taken up with issues about care.

The Living alongside Mental Illness (LAMI) program is a response to students who have a parent or parents with mental health issues (diagnosed or undiagnosed).

It is a mental health promotion and illness prevention program. One of the major issues addressed is keeping your life the main story and overcoming a sense of isolation particularly in respect to the "secret" of having a parent with a mental illness. Participants have told us that sharing in a group they are able to see how others have coped with problems; often it's not so lonely when other people seem to know something about what you've experienced. Sometimes it's been hard for people to tell friends about what has been happening in their family - it may have become a secret - and the group feels like a safe place to talk. It has also been a place to explore the things that keep people hopeful, alive and creative.

If any of these thoughts and ideas seem familiar to you or echo aspects of your life you may want to talk to a counsellor individually or join the next LAMI group. See a detailed description of LAMI on our group webpage.

Other web resources

Although we have attempted to ensure the links below lead to reliable sites, the University of Melbourne Counselling Service does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of information provided on the following sites.

Service Organisations

ARAFEMI Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill Victoria
ARAFEMI is a community based organization providing services to people experiencing mental illness and family and friends of people who are experiencing mental illness. Some of the services they provide include:

Location: Ground floor, 270 Auburn Road, Hawthorn 3122
Ph (03) 9810 9300

Mental Health Foundation of Victoria
Publications, fact sheets, Mood Disorders Support Group (for sufferers, family and friends), Events including using the Arts to explore issues of mental health and illness.

Mental Illness Fellowship
Fact sheets, Frequently asked questions, their mission is "to work with people with mental illness, their families and friends to improve their well being." They provide "education, support and advocacy".

Resources for Carers of Parents with a Mental Illness

Resources for carers apply to carers generally and these specific services include carers of parents with who have a Mental Illness.

Carers Victoria
Especially the subgroup resources for Young Carers aged up to twenty-five who have a significant caring responsiblity for a family member or friend affected by a mental illness.

More information from Carer Resource Centre, phone 1800 242 636, or email: They also provide brochures and other resources.

Carer Counselling
Short term and either, telephone, individual, couple or group call Carer Resource Centre 1800 242 636

Respite for Carers
Carer Support Groups - call Carer Resource Centre 1800 242 636

Commonwealth Carelink Centres
Telephone: 1800 052 222 can provide you with information about the range of services available in your local area and how to contact these services and whether there is any costs associated with receiving the services.

Family Care Plans

Partners in Care
A project of the Royal College of Psychiatrists UK. Their website provides useful materials (PDF 80kb) in terms of care planning; particularly questions to ask Psychiatrists if you are a carer.

Resources for families and younger people

Australian Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Association Ltd

COMIC Children of Mentally Ill Consumers
It is aimed at children and families and is comprised of a group of adults who share a common interest for children of parents with a mental illness. They seek to promote recognition of the needs of families where parents have been diagnosed with a mental illness making these needs more visible and advocating in terms of policy, education and services.

The family support kit (with Family Care Plan) (PDF 531kb)
Although aimed at younger children has many practical suggestions for all ages.

PATS: Paying Attention to Self
A Peer Support Program for Young People Who Have a Parent with a Mental Health Problem.

Youth Sites

Specific resources that provide information about Mental Health and illness

Mental Health Network
American based private website with well organized information about mental illness and mental health

Health promotion website; articles about mental health and illness; online bookshop with book resources you can purchase. Information Helpline (this is not counseling service but provides specific information and referral to support agencies) 1800 18 SANE (7263) 9-5 weekdays.


Beyond Blue
Beyondblue's major goal is to increase community awareness of depression. The website aims to provide authoritative, reliable and useful information as well as mechanisms for giving voice to the concerns and experiences of those whose lives have been affected by depression


DepressioNet is an independent resource for information, help and support. They offer a 24 hour email service to answer any depression related questions and help locate resources available in your area. There is also the opportunity to communicate with others via the chat room and message board.

Blue Pages
BluePages provides information about depression for consumers It is produced by the Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) at the Australian National University (ANU).

The Mood Gym

Black Dog Institute

NNAAMI - National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have a Mentally Ill Parent
Members identify themselves as "a group of people who have experienced life with a mentally ill parent." A self help group aiming to provide assistance for one another via self- help, support, counseling and discussion groups. The site includes a mixture of newspaper articles and personal stories, management plan advice, advocacy plans and links.